This week's syndicated column
When Brandeis University withdrew an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali after a student-professor firestorm branded her an “Islamophobe,” the campus in effect declared itself an outpost of Islamic law, American-style. Officially, Brandeis is now a place where critics of Islam – “blasphemers” and “apostates,” according to Islamic law – are scorned and rejected.
Not that Brandeis put it that way in its unsigned announcement about Hirsi Ali’s dis-invitation, which notes: “She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook … her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
Translation: Hirsi Ali’s advocacy on behalf of brutalized women is Good, but Hirsi Ali’s “past statements” – advocacy that connects such violence to Islamic teachings – are Bad, or, in faddish twaddle, “Islamophobia.” As a dhimmi (non-Muslims under Islamic law) institution, Brandeis cannot possibly honor the infidel.
Islamic blasphemy laws sanction the death penalty for exactly the kind of criticism of Islam ex-Muslim Hirsi Ali has engaged in: hence, the innumerable death threats she has received for over a decade; and hence, the ritual Islamic slaughter of Hirsi Ali’s co-producer, Theo van Gogh, for “Submission,” their short film about specifically Islamic violence and repression of women. In the U.S. (so far), punishment for such “transgressions” against Islam usually resembles an aggressive form of blackballing. There are horrifying exceptions, however, including the decision to prosecute and incarcerate Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, producer of “Innocence of Muslims,” for “parole violations.” To be sure, when it comes to participating in the 21st-century public square – in this case, donning academic robes and making valedictory remarks – “Islamophobes” need not apply.
This has long been the case. But we have reached a new nadir when a courageous figure of Hirsi Ali’s stature is publicly lashed for expressing herself about the perils that Islamic teachings pose to women’s rights and, more generally, human rights. Brandeis, however, deems such opinions “hate speech” – exactly the phrase used in an online student petition against Hirsi Ali. After all, name-calling is so much simpler than having to mount an argument. And so much more effective as a political weapon.
In our post-Orwellian time, “hate speech” means publicly reviled speech. A “hate-speaker” thus becomes fair game for public humiliation – exactly what Brandeis chose to inflict on Hirsi Ali. The humiliation, however, is Brandeis’ alone.
For what “core values” is Brandeis protecting? Denial. Orthodoxy. Cant. Lori Lowenthal Marcus, writing in The Jewish Press, excerpted Facebook comments by Bernadette Brooten, a Brandeis professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, in which Brooten described the anti-Hirsi-Ali letter she and 85 other Brandeis professors signed. “We stressed that we recognize the harm of female genital cutting, forced marriages, and honor killings, but that this selection obscures the violence against women that happens among non-Muslims, including on our own campus,” Brooten wrote. “I recognize the harm of gendered violence wherever it occurs, and I applaud the hard, effective work of many Muslims who are working to oppose it in their own communities.”
Whether Brandeis counts as a hotbed of “gendered violence” aside (let alone the predominantly Islamic phenomena of female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honor killings), Brooten has underscored the source of animus against Hirsi Ali. Her “selection” for university honors “obscures” non-Muslim violence against women, Brooten writes, but what I think disturbs the professors more is what Hirsi Ali has done – what her whole life experience signifies – to highlight the violence against women and children that is legitimized and inspired by specifically and authoritatively Islamic sources. Thanks in part to Brandeis, such sources are increasingly relegated to the list of post-9/11 taboos.
Never say Islam has anything to do with terrorism. Don’t ever, ever draw a cartoon of Muhammad. Oppose “gendered violence” (there’s no such thing as Islamic-rooted violence against women). Ostracize or humiliate “apostates” like Hirsi Ali (at least until real Islamic apostasy law becomes applicable here). In other words, protect, coddle and swathe Islam from the barbs and scrutiny that all other religions receive – or else. Or else what? Citizens might decide to halt Islamic immigration or “refugee resettlement” because it brings Islamic law to the West.
Then again, those laws are already here – and in force at Brandeis.